Difficult Conversations Needed To Agree Actions To Help End Abuse Of Older Australians

Leading seniors organisation COTA Australia says the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Discussion Paper released today with draft recommendations from its Elder Abuse Inquiry will hopefully kick-start a much needed public conversation about this significant and too often hidden problem in modern Australia.

COTA Australia Chief Executive Ian Yates said starting uncomfortable conversations about the prevalence of elder abuse was a first step to reducing it.

“This discussion paper will be extremely useful in kicking off what is for many people a difficult conversation. Be under no illusion – elder abuse is happening in your community,” Mr Yates said.

“This is an extremely important public discussion and it’s long overdue.

“Behaviours that people would normally find completely unacceptable are too often routinely experienced by older Australians. It’s a minority of older people but it’s a bigger minority than the community acknowledges or has been prepared to take action to protect,” Mr Yates said.

What we call “elder abuse” comprises a wide range of completely unacceptable behaviours:

  • Most common is financial abuse, which we should call theft
  • Psychological abuse, which we should call harassment
  • Physical abuse, which we should call assault and sometimes battery

“Too often abuse is an outcome of the legal system designed to prevent it – powers of attorney and guardianship which are themselves misused to hide criminal behaviour. Criminal behaviour that is in no way excused or diminished because it is within family,” Mr Yates said.

“The recommendations in the discussion paper are an important and comprehensive set of proposals that deserve serious and widespread discussion and debate.

“Specific measures from the discussion paper may need fine-tuning and further consultation but overall they represent a very credible and considered set of proposals to tackle the insidious trend of elder abuse in Australia.

“There is a balance to be struck between respecting older people’s own agency and protecting them from abuse. As the Law Reform Commission has itself noted, this is difficult. It must be a key focus of community discussion about the recommendations.”

Media contact: Ian Yates 0418 835 439, Peter Stahel 0408 584 439

COTA Australia is the peak policy development, advocacy and representation organisation for older Australians, representing COTAs in every State and Territory and through them over 500,000 older Australians.